“It is indeed a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest; and the sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire. Our hour of triumph is what brings the void.”
It is not my habit to live in the present. I either linger on past moments of tenderness or future dreams of glory. Suffering brings the present–the present as gift and challenge. Living life as a cup in need of filling (by other people, by success, by healthy foods and by writing) is a sad fiction with tragic consequences.
So often I strive (in search of what?). I don’t believe creative pursuits are meaningless or bad yet when I make idols I miss things. I hunger after food that does not satisfy. I forget others. I avoid others. They interfere with my goals (my declared and undeclared wants disguised as needs).
I’d like to write a better post this week yet winter lingers here at Middlemay Farm with a host of sufferings and difficulties. I confess that January felt laden with disappointment, boredom and wasted time. February was no better until one day when I’d gotten up especially early to get stuff done before having to wash staph-infected goats with lime sulfur (yes, it smells of rotten eggs) I stumbled upon a verse from the Bible.
“The Lord is peace.” Judges 6:24
Four simple words. Words almost cliche. Yet they struck me as the opposite of how I’d been living my life. After years of striving, yoga, green smoothies, tantrums, therapy and complaint, I suddenly saw that I’d bought into the lie that I was a cup “needing” to be filled. God led me to write novels. Some may scoff at such a notion but there are just some things that jump out at you in life. The mission placed on me, embedded in my DNA, is to write fiction for those of us who are terribly flawed. Those of us who believe we’ve taken things too far and are irredeemable. I once was there.
But missions can get corrupted as easily as anything else. A review comes in. A reader finds a book’s characters too damned flawed. For a moment, maybe even a day, I wander the farm wondering: Is it true that some people are just not lovable?
On an intellectual level I believe God loves us–all of us, but I fall prey to feelings, and feelings lie. I let my characters go through quite a lot of hardship. They grow that way. I love them and the people I write for. Fictional characters live in the past and future.
In the NOW there are real people who suffer minor slights and major catastrophes all around us. I find them insufferably flawed. I say to my husband things like: if this one goat I love does not get better soon I want her taken out back and shot. Do I mean it? Sometimes. Maybe? Not really.
It’s very easy for me to blind myself to the suffering of others when I’m stomping my feet and needing my cup filled.
So what is this peace?
I used to think it was an easy thing for the Lord to have peace. If I had complete control wouldn’t I have peace?
Honestly I’d have to say no. It’s obvious that none of us are gods, but I make idols of people and things all the time. Idols bring no peace. Striving brings no peace.
I think the point of the four words is that while there are lesser things to love, to struggle with and to mourn over God remains present. As in the moments. Right now. As writers we create characters, serenely aware of our deep love for them (would our characters know that as we allow their suffering?). Unlike us God isn’t scripting for an exciting dystopian young adult novel. His story is sadly not as well known as it should be.
At the end of our suffering there is peace–something we are only awake to on rare occasions in this life. Those times in suffering when a nurse stays with you all night or when a dog jumps into your sick bed. Those moments temporarily fill our perceived empty cups. But here is where we look at it wrong. God’s peace is for the givers more than the takers. To look at a creative pursuit or mission as a love offering to others instead of a way to pant after good reviews and limelight is to change everything.
I’m no saint. I hate kids, animals and the world for brief moments every day when I’m looking to be filled.
But there’s something better.